Essays, opinions and rants

Partying With the Johnsonites

Partying With the Johnsonites


We were eight adults, six kids, and a well-behaved dog. Three of our families have watched the Super Bowl together for the past five years, rotating hosting duties. We added a fourth family this year because it was our turn to host and we crowned ourselves bosses for the evening.

We’re in New England, people, so you’re goddamn right we hung up signs and balloons, wore our jerseys (I’m Butler) and ate from football paper plates. We cooked mostly Tex-Mex in honor of the game’s Houston locale: Jalapeño popper dip (from the King Arthur Flour website; it was unparalleled), tuna ceviche, tacos, steak sandwiches, some vegetables in the interest of extending life expectancy, and deviled egg footballs. Unsurprisingly, there were margaritas (which mirrored the Pats’ playbook by mounting a fourth-quarter sneak attack on us).

Excited as we were for the festivities, I wondered how this year would go down – in the TV room, not on the field.

From the news of the commercials’ political overtones to speculation over Gaga’s plans to the ongoing discussion over the relationship between Belichick, Brady and the president, the Super Bowl was going to be a political event no matter what. It’s a hyperpolitical new world – and an acrimonious and polarized one.

Any talk of Washington during the Super Bowl would not be a therapy session for a roomful of like-minded voters. Our posse is not all on the same political page, though I wasn’t sure precisely to what extent we differed. No one would be likely to start chanting “Drain the swamp!” or call me a Libtard, but for some of us, even the “wait and see” rhetoric is hollow. (I’ve seen enough already, thank you very much.)

It’s helpful to know what one is in for, right? So, breaking every hostess taboo ever written in any language, I asked everyone who they voted for. No, I did not gather the gang and hold the apps hostage and call people out publicly – that might have backfired if they mounted a majority opposition to my questioning and forced me to drop it. Instead, I broke them away from the group and asked them one at a time, ambush-style. I’m no dummy.

No one had voted for the Republican party candidate. Johnson won the most votes on Super Bowl night.

With that we settled in to stuffing our faces, voting on commercials (loved those avocados!), congratulating the winner of the squares competition at the end of each quarter, biting our nails and having another margarita as the Patriots tanked, then screaming and jumping and high-fiving and holy-shitting and switching to champagne to celebrate the superlative-defying victory. Switching from tequila to champagne at 11 o’clock at night always seems like a sound move in the moment, doesn’t it?

That is not to say there was no political talk. There was some impassioned condemnation of the president (from a non-American who therefore could not vote) followed by murmurs of agreement and gentle redirection back to the game. There was mild disagreement over how political Gaga’s performance was or wasn’t (she sang This Land is Your Land, one of the most famous protest songs of all time, for God’s sake!). There were some side conversations about checks and balances.

Considering other perspectives was educational and interesting, as always. I learn much more from people with different ideologies than from venting with my soul-mates (though that’s also needed).

With these Johnsonites, there’s a growing tradition of gentle ribbing, sometimes less-gentle ribbing, and an occasional shaft of light that pierces someone’s ideological armor. There’s grudging respect for each other’s intellectual honesty (or a quick calling out if lack of same is suspected) mixed with puzzlement at divergent philosophies and priorities.

Most of all there’s an acceptance that it’s okay not to understand or share each other’s political views. We don’t hide or ignore it. In a way we celebrate it. The willingness to talk and listen to each other takes us out of our own heads and leads us to new opinions (or just a shrug and a head shake).

Reading The Notorious RBG recently, I learned that Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the late Antonin Scalia were literally BFFs – they vacationed together, they spent every New Years Eve together feasting on whatever Scalia had bagged on his hunting trips, they giddily costumed up and were extras together in an opera production. They worked themselves to the bone, usually in opposition to each other, day after day, court session after court session, then hung up their robes and went out to play.

Now that’s a fly-on-the-wall fantasy Super Bowl party….but it’s also a lofty model for how to engage with humankind. To be comfortable enough with oneself that there is nothing to fear from difference or dissent. To be curious. To not need to be right all the time. To appreciate people who aren’t exactly like us.

One of my oldest and dearest friends, who lives across the country (and has an advanced degree, works in finance and has two daughters) emailed me after the election that the outcome thrilled her and she “could not care less about the pussy-grabbing,” to which I replied that she might care if it was her own daughters getting grabbed, and she did not reply to that but I STILL LOVE HER even though I think her position is nuts. I don’t know where she stands on Bannon.

If this dear friend emails saying she is a Bannon fan I very likely will STILL not stop loving her. But I will be extremely glad she doesn’t live near enough to come over for the Super Bowl. We all have our limits, and no one who thinks Bannon is okay is getting anywhere near my top-shelf tequila, football eggs or popper dip.

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7 thoughts on “Partying With the Johnsonites”

  • As always, you hit the nail on the head. I didn’t get to watch the Super Bowl this year due to the huge time zone difference but I don’t think I could bear to watch it with a professed Bannon supporter. I will continue to love my Bannon supporting friends but I don’t think we can be together right now.
    I will keep Scalia and Ginsburg as my inspiration. Ted Kennedy and Tip O’Neill also famously crossed the aisle when it came to friendships.
    And, I do agree that listening to other perspectives is fruitful. I have interrogated every Uber driver I’ve encountered in London and they have all been happily forthcoming. I love the perspectives. But, I don’t have to break bread with the Uber drivers; it’s converse, drive and done. One of the gifts of a diverse city.

  • Awesome piece Michelle! And a lot of wisdom to chew on. Love the RBG & Scalia relationship and lots to learn from them. Keep ’em coming girlfriend. Sue xx

  • I second Ms. McCarthy. Excellent piece, and menu.

    On Superbowl Sunday of last year, I read the marvelously subversive Steve Almond book, “Against Football.” (Did you suggest that to me?!!!). Talk about a recipe for strife, try even mentioning that title. This Superbowl Sunday afternoon, I took the dog for a long walk.

    PS: What is your top-shelf tequila?

  • Love your tying in the Super Bowl with how we need to still love the opposite party. It’s only through some understanding that we won’t be a divided country. Love trumps hate. And hey, love your deviled eggs–cute!

  • Love the eggs but love the tie-in of the SBowl party and the metaphor to divisiveness in our country more. Yes, love trumps hate.

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